The Airline Operators of Nigeria (AON) has commended the Federal Government for its swift response in removing 7 per cent surcharge on imported aircraft and spares and the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) for the support it has given to the operators.
The Vice Chairman of AON who is also the Chairman and CEO of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, gave the commendation on Wednesday.
He also frowned at what he described as a media distortion of the proceedings in the interactive forum at the Senate on July 6, 2021, when he made a presentation on behalf of the airlines on the challenges the operators are facing.
According to Onyema, an online medium reported the meeting as an issue concerning Air Peace alone and brought an ethnic dimension to it, which he described as highly condemnable.
He explained that the Senate Committee on Aviation held an interactive meeting with all the aviation agencies in Nigeria led by the Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, together with all Nigerian airlines represented by the AON leadership in which he represented the association as Vice President and made presentation on behalf of the body.
“The meeting was called by the Senate to discuss the reasons for the recent upsurge in flight delays and flight cancellations amongst other issues and challenges facing the aviation industry. It was on this occasion that AON made its presentation of challenges facing all the airlines. Our member airlines were present but we made an articulated collective presentation to the Senate, which I read as the Vice President on behalf of the association,” he further explained.
“It was on this occasion that AON presented the issue of the partial implementation of the Finance Act 2020 which prohibits the payment of duties and VAT on imported aircraft and aircraft spares by the Customs Service. Of note, was the presence of a 7 per cent Surcharge on the assessed duties which was not supposed to be. This caused delays in the clearance of aircraft and aircraft spares leading to grounding of aircraft that would have been flying,” he explained.
The AON Vice Chairman stated that after the Senate meeting, the airlines contacted the Minister of Finance and Minister of Aviation on the aforementioned challenges and both Ministers, “as representatives of a responsible government, swung into action immediately.”
“AON, for the avoidance of doubt, commends the Federal Government for its unflinching support for the growth of indigenous investments in Nigeria. This was very evident in the manner the government got this challenge addressed immediately within 48 hours to the joy of the airlines.
“We equally commend the Nigerian Customs Service for also assisting the airlines, including but not limited to Air Peace which was used as an example, in getting their aircraft spares and aircraft released. Our planes have since started flying,” he said.
Onyema said since the 7th day of July, 2021, airlines have been clearing their aircraft spares and aircraft without having to pay any 7 per cent surcharge.
“It is therefore very mischievous for any media outfit to be circulating videos of the presentation of AON complaints made on July 6th two weeks after the said presentation and two weeks after the issues had been resolved as though they are still existing”.
The target of the sponsors of this falsehood is the Federal Government of President Muhammadu Buhari. I personally frown at the ethnic angle presently circulating in the social media that the ‘Fulani’ is destroying Air Peace.
“Those who want the country to go up in turmoil will never stop fanning divisive falsehood. The video was deliberately doctored to show only my face while obscuring the presence of the entire Senate committee members, Minister of Aviation and the leadership of all Aviation agencies in Nigeria. The target here is also me. No amount of deliberate intimidation, blackmail and falsehood will deter me from standing up for Peace and unity in my country. This has been my life since my childhood.
“It is very untrue that Air Peace is being dealt with by the ‘fulani’ rather the Federal Government led by President Muhammadu Buhari is very protective of every indigenous investment including those of the airlines,” he added.
Onyeama said that contrary to the insinuations that only Air Peace was singled out by Customs to pay those contested surcharges; it was all the airlines that were affected.
“Nobody is ‘dealing’ with Air Peace rather this government is very protective of Air Peace. This is evident in the government refusing to allow one Middle East airline from coming into Nigeria because its Covid-19 protocol was discriminatory and unfavourable to a Nigerian airline. Which airline is that? Air Peace, of course.
“Those using the social media to destroy the country and promote hate should think of the consequences of their actions. Azman Air was affected and it is owned by a Fulani.
Max Air was affected and it is owned by a Fulani. The list goes on. Why are we bent on spooling out falsehood that causes disunity and tremendous disaffection in the country? Why are people bent on promoting hate amongst our diverse peoples? For those promoting hate, the Rwandan story beckons on them,” he added.
The AON Vice Chairman said the present government, in its pursuit for the growth of indigenous airlines helped in getting the Bill removing duties and VAT from imported commercial aircraft and aircraft spares passed while the President wasted no time in giving his assent and signing into law, describing the move as commendable.
Nigerian airline, Air Peace has foiled an attempt to traffic two babies by a man and a woman at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Terminal 2, Lagos.
According to a statement issued by the airline on Tuesday, a Passenger Service Executives and Security Personnel became suspicious when the two adults, travelling to Asaba, were being checked in at the counter.
The suspicion intensified when the two adults, who hinted that the babies were three months old each, had different narratives upon questioning.
Further questioning revealed they were not the parents of the babies.
Consequently, Air Peace’s Security Unit took both of them to the MMA2 Police Station where they admitted to being agents who traffic children for adoption.
The police say the case would be transferred to the National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) for further investigation and action.
This is not the first time the airline is nabbing suspected traffickers.
In June 2018 crew members had foiled two child trafficking schemes on a Lagos–Banjul flight and another in January 2019 on a Lagos-Port Harcourt flight.
Air Peace, has sacked scores of pilots across its fleet and have slashed staff salaries by up to 40 per cent.
This was confirmed on Monday by the airline’s spokesman, Mr. Stanley Olise.
According to Mr. Olise’s statement, the retrenchment, and shedding of staff is not unlinked with the economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Describing the sacking as “painful but rightful decision,” the airline’s management said the cutbacks were necessary to ensure that Air Peace survives the hardship of the times.
The spokesman’s communique further stressed that the decision was inevitable under the circumstances, adding that the move was made in order to protect the continuity of the majority of the existing jobs and the possibility of creating new ones in the future, as well as to ensure the survival of the airline.
Below is the full statement as released by Mr. Olise on behalf of the Air Peace management.
“The Management of Air Peace wishes to state that it has taken a very painful but rightful decision, in the circumstances the airline has found itself as a result of the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on its operations and financial health, to terminate the employment of some of its pilots.
“This decision was taken for the greater good of the company and its almost 3000 workforce, the affected pilots inclusive. The airline cannot afford to toe the path of being unable to continue to fulfill its financial obligations to its staff, external vendors, aviation agencies, maintenance organisations, insurance companies, banks and other creditors hence the decision to restructure its entire operations with a view to surviving the times.
“The pandemic has hit every airline worldwide so badly that it has become very impossible for airlines to remain afloat without carrying out internal restructuring of their costs. Anything short of what we have done may lead to the collapse of an airline as could be seen in some places worldwide during this period. Therefore, we decided to review the salaries being paid to all staff. The new salaries reflect a 0%-40% cut of the former salary depending on the salary grades of every staff. Even after the cuts, it was obvious that for us to be able to sustain our operations and survive the times, some jobs must inevitably have to go.
“Air Peace has never, for one day, ever owed salaries to its workers in its almost six years of existence, pilots inclusive. Rather the management of Air Peace has always been known to be increasing salaries of its employees periodically without being prompted by staff. In fact, in one fell swoop, Air Peace increased the salaries of pilots by over 100% in one day! Our salaries have always been paid even before the end of the month in the last 5 years!
“So we love all our staff. This decision is inevitable under the circumstances we find ourselves. In order to protect the continuity of majority of the existing jobs and the possibility of creating new ones in future, the survival of the airline is of paramount importance. When everything comes back to normal those pilots affected today will have a place to come back to in future if they so wish.
“The decision is a reflection of the negative impact of the pandemic on airlines and aviation worldwide. We are in trying times. Even the biggest airlines in Europe, America, Middle East, Asia, Australia and, indeed, Africa, are all either slashing jobs and cutting salaries in order to remain afloat or are shutting down. Air Peace is not immune from these challenges.”
A passenger caught smoking on-board Air Peace plane has been found guilty by a Magistrate Court sitting in Ogba, Lagos and sentenced to two weeks imprisonment with the option of paying N200,000 as a fine.
The passenger was seen smoking a cigarette and was accosted by the flight attendant, Adewale Oyebade while carrying out his routine safety checks.
According to a statement released on Wednesday by the Corporate Communications Executive of Air Peace, Stanley Olisa, this act contravenes a standing global aviation regulation of non-smoking in-flight.
Chief Executive Officer of Air Peace, Allen Onyema, has denied allegations that he laundered more than $20 million from Nigeria through United States bank accounts, a claim credited to the US Department of Justice.
According to the Justice Department, Mr Onyema allegedly leveraged his status as a prominent business leader and airline executive while using falsified documents to commit fraud.
In a statement issued by his lawyer, Mr Onyema claimed that all allegations are false and do not reflect his personality as a business owner.
”I never laundered money in my life, neither have I committed bank fraud anywhere in the world. Every kobo I transferred to the U.S. for aircraft purchase went through the Central Bank of Nigeria and all were used for the same purpose.”
He insisted on his innocence on all the indictment and said that the U.S. government will find no dirt on him because he has never conducted any illegal business.
American Laws Go After Those Who Break Them…
Meanwhile, Personal Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, has asked Mr Onyema to face his accusers, stressing that the US Government only go after those who break their laws.
In a series of tweet, the President’s aide said that the Federal Government is yet to be briefed about the situation.
“I do not understand what President Muhammadu Buhari has to do with Mr. Onyema of Airpeace being indicted and charged in the USA.
“According to our Attorney General, the Federation, the Government has not even been informed of the situation; American laws go after those who BREAK them.”
She lamented the way funds meant for the development of the Niger Delta have been looted.
Onochie said: How much has Nigeria invested in the Niger Delta Amnesty Programme, NDDC & 13% derivation funds? All, mostly in a black hole Do we know the extent of poverty, ignorance & disease in the Niger Delta? Please let America help us see how Niger Delta underdeveloped Niger Delta.
“Those of us from the Niger Delta who are the direct beneficiaries of the sufferings that emanated from the looting of our wealth will tackle them. It’s our war that is being fought. Laws, Nigerian or American, go after those who break them so we must mind our business.
“We are smarter now than ever before. Gradually, the scales of tribalism, religious affinity and political loyalty, are falling off our eyes and being replaced by Nigerianism.
“Nigerians are not keen on tales by the moonlight. Let him return to America and face his accusers,” she added.
See Lauretta Onochie’s tweets below:
1. I do not understand what Pres. @MBuhari has to do with Mr. Onyema of Airpeace being indicted and charged in the USA.
According to our Attorney General, the Fed. Govt. has not even been informed of the situation.
American laws go after those who BREAK them What a man sows….
The United States has charged the CEO of Air Peace Airline, Allen Onyema, with bank fraud and money laundering.
According to a statement issued on Friday by the US Department of Justice, Onyema had moved more than $20 million from Nigeria through United States bank accounts in a scheme involving false documents based on the purchase of airplanes.
“Onyema allegedly leveraged his status as a prominent business leader and airline executive while using falsified documents to commit fraud,” U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak, said.
“We will diligently protect the integrity our banking system from being corrupted by criminals, even when they disguise themselves in a cloak of international business.”
He further stated that the airline’s Chief of Administration and Finance, Ejiroghene Eghagha, had also been charged with bank fraud and committing aggravated identity theft in connection with the scheme.
This comes weeks after the airline’s boss had been celebrated for the humanitarian roles he played in the wake of xenophobic attacks on foreigners, including Nigerians in South Africa.
He had volunteered his airline to fly Nigerians stranded in South Africa back home at no cost.
The gesture was not only appreciated by Nigerians but recognised by the Federal Government.
Consequently, he was invited to the House of Representatives, given a standing ovation and recommended for a national award.
The US is, however, accusing him of setting up “various innocent-sounding multi-million dollar asset purchases which were nothing more than alleged fronts for his scam”.
But Mr Onyema has denied these allegations.
“All allegations are false and are in no way in line with my character as a person and as a businessman whose only aim has been to build Nigeria,” he was quoted in an interview with This Day newspaper.
See the full statement below.
CEO of Nigerian airline indicted for bank fraud and money laundering
ATLANTA – Allen Ifechukwu Athan Onyema, the Chairman, CEO, and founder of Air Peace, a Nigerian airline, has been charged with bank fraud and money laundering for moving more than $20 million from Nigeria through United States bank accounts in a scheme involving false documents based on the purchase of airplanes.
The international airline’s Chief of Administration and Finance, Ejiroghene Eghagha, has also been charged with bank fraud and committing aggravated identity theft in connection with the scheme.
“Onyema allegedly leveraged his status as a prominent business leader and airline executive while using falsified documents to commit fraud,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “We will diligently protect the integrity of our banking system from being corrupted by criminals, even when they disguise themselves in a cloak of international business.”
Robert J. Murphy, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Atlanta Field Division commented on the indictment, “Allen Onyema’s status as a wealthy businessman turned out to be a fraud. He corrupted the U.S. banking system, but his trail of deceit and trickery came to a skidding halt. DEA would like to thank the many law enforcement partners and the subsequent prosecution by the U.S. Attorney’s Office who aided in making this investigation a success.”
“This case is a prime example of why IRS-CI seeks to partner and leverage its expertise in an effort to thwart those seeking to exploit our nation’s financial system,” said Thomas J. Holloman, IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge of the Atlanta Field Office.
“With the importance of our banking system to the movement of money around the world, those attempting to use intricate schemes to commit bank fraud through the use of falsified documents and other means should know that the odds are now heavily stacked against them as law enforcement is combining its talents to protect the sanctity and integrity of the nation’s financial system.”
“Onyema setup various innocent sounding multi-million dollar asset purchases which were nothing more than alleged fronts for his scam,” said acting Special Agent in Charge Robert Hammer, who oversees HSI operations in Georgia and Alabama. “I’m proud to be part of a team of law enforcement agencies that come together to identify and attack criminals that attempt to profit from the exploitation of our nation’s financial systems.”
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the indictment, and other information presented in court: Onyema, a Nigerian citizen and businessman, is the founder and Chairman of several organizations that purport to promote peace across Nigeria, including the Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non-Violence and Peace Development, and All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited.
Beginning in 2010, Onyema began travelling frequently to Atlanta, where he opened several personal and business bank accounts. Between 2010 and 2018, over $44.9 million was allegedly transferred into his Atlanta-based accounts from foreign sources.
Onyema is also the CEO and Chairman of Nigerian airline Air Peace, which he founded in 2013. In years following the founding of Air Peace, he travelled to the United States and purchased multiple airplanes for the airline. However, over $3 million of the funds used to purchase the aircraft allegedly came from bank accounts for Foundation for Ethnic Harmony, International Center for Non-Violence and Peace Development, All-Time Peace Media Communications Limited, and Every Child Limited.
Beginning in approximately May 2016, Onyema, together with Eghagha, allegedly used a series of export letters of credit to cause banks to transfer more than $20 million into Atlanta-based bank accounts controlled by Onyema. The letters of credit were purportedly to fund the purchase of five separate Boeing 737 passenger planes by Air Peace. The letters were supported by documents such as purchase agreements, bills of sale, and appraisals proving that Air Peace was purchasing the aircraft from Springfield Aviation Company LLC, a business registered in Georgia.
However, the supporting documents were fake — Springfield Aviation Company LLC, which is owned by Onyema and managed by a person with no connection to the aviation business, never owned the aircraft, and the company that allegedly drafted the appraisals did not exist. Eghagha allegedly participated in this scheme as well, directing the Springfield Aviation manager to sign and send false documents to banks and even using the manager’s identity to further the fraud. After Onyema received the money in the United States, he allegedly laundered over $16 million of the proceeds of the fraud by transferring it to other accounts.
Allen Ifechukwu Athan Onyema, 56, of Lagos, Nigeria, and Ejiroghene Eghagha, 37, of Lagos, Nigeria, were indicted on November 19, 2019, on one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, three counts of bank fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit credit application fraud, and three counts of credit application fraud.
Additionally, Onyema was charged with 27 counts of money laundering, and Eghagha was charged with one count of aggravated identity theft.
Members of the public are reminded that the indictment only contains charges. The defendants are presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government’s burden to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
The Drug Enforcement Administration, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of Commerce, and Department of Treasury are investigating this case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Garrett L. Bradford, Deputy Chief of the Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Section and Lead Strike Force Attorney, Irina K. Dutcher, and Christopher J. Huber, Deputy Chief of the Complex Frauds Section, are prosecuting the case, with assistance from the Department of Justice’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section and Office of International Affairs.
This prosecution was brought as a part of the Department of Justice’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Co-located Strike Forces Initiative, which enables agents from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations against a continuum of priority targets and their affiliate illicit financial networks. These prosecutor-led co-located Strike Forces capitalize on the synergy created through the long-term relationships that can be forged by agents, analysts, and prosecutors who remain together over time, and they epitomize the model that has proven most effective in combating organized crime.
The specific mission of the Atlanta Strike Force is to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug trafficking and money laundering organizations designated as Consolidated Priority Organization Targets or Regional Priority Organization Targets and their affiliates impacting the Atlanta metropolitan area and the Northern District of Georgia.
The Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) Nigeria has released the preliminary reports on serious incidents involving three aircraft owned and operated by Air Peace Limited.
The preliminary reports are not the final reports as they contain details of the initial facts, discussions and findings surrounding the occurrences; which include information gathered from witness statements, flight recorders, Health and Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) Data, Flight Data Monitoring (FDM) data, and preliminary inspection of the accident sites and the wreckages.
Therefore, the investigations on these serious incidents are still ongoing and final reports on these occurrences will be released at the conclusion of these investigations.
The reports released by AIB included the serious incident involving Air Peace Limited B737-300 aircraft with nationality and registration marks 5N-BUK at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos on May 15, 2019.
AIB also released the report on the serious incident involving the airline’s B737-500 aircraft with nationality and registration marks 5N-BRN at Port Harcourt International Airport, Port Harcourt on June 22, 2019.
Also released is the report on the serious incident involving Air Peace Limited B737-300 aircraft with nationality and registration marks 5N-BQO at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos on July 23, 2019.